Monday, June 27, 2011

Connectedness and museums

We are inundated with information on how the digital world is changing our lives on almost a weekly basis, and one of the issues I struggle with is making sense in a practical way of what we hear and read, i.e. what these changes mean in our professional lives working in museums.

So it is good to report on two interesting documents which have appeared in the last week which provide some hard data to help cut through what it all means.

The first is a report from the Pew Foundation of Washington DC. I blogged about their presentation to Museums and the Web in April, and this is a useful update on internet use. What they have found from their most recent survey is that:
  • 79% of US adults now use the internet.
  • 47% of US adults use at least one social networking site (SNS), which is 59% of those who use the internet. This is close to double those using a SNS in 2008.
  • The average age of SNS users is now 38, up from 33 in 2008, with over half SNS users over 35.
  • 92% of SNS users are on Facebook, 29% on MySpace, 18% used LinkedIn and 13% Twitter (up from 8% a year before).
The second report, which ties in well with this has been produced by the Australia Council. Entitled Connecting://arts audiences online it is a most useful survey of how new technology and platforms are making connecting and engaging with the arts quicker, easier and more open. No surprises there, nor the ability of this technology to enrich the experience, but what I was looking for was up take of this technology. For instance Twitter may appear to be prevalent as a SNS but Pew tells us only 13% of SNS users in the US are engaged with it.

So what I usefully learnt about the Australian online scene is as follows:
  • Half arts audiences have an internet engaged phone and this is growing fast
  • 64% of arts attendees aged 55 and over actively use Facebook
  • 90% of arts organisations have a Facebook presence and 69% had made a wall post in the last week
  • Although 25% of arts audiences have used Twitter, half no longer use their account
  • One in three arts attendees are going on line and engaging with others DURING an arts experience
  • 34% shared photos, audio or video after the event
What do I take from all of this?

Social media provides a new way for audiences to express their affinity for the arts. Arts audiences want to engage with the event before, during and after it to extend, relive and remember the event. Such behaviour is spontaneous amongst younger audiences but needs prompting amongst older audiences.

Museum web sites need to easily link to social media, both to provide a functional means to reach their social media presence, but more importantly to respond to a comment often made during this survey that simply seeing key social media brand logos on an organisation’s web site immediately gives it street cred.

I am doing lots of work with apps and visit tracking at present through our technology company Smarttrack RFID (see the latest announcement), and in my view we are already beyond just producing apps that provide a guide to the exhibit or museum.

Apps now need to allow users to share the experience and interact with the exhibit. This is a world where we need to encourage SNS use big time, as it has the potential to draw a demographic into the museum which is currently not well represented. Whilst I hesitate to draw parallels with the new SNS view on classical concerts (listeners being allowed to photo and tweet during performances), the upside for engagement with artworks, objects and exhibits is enormous and so exciting.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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